How We Learn & Remember

This article was written by Dart Ridenour to describe the purposes and goals he believes are possible from the knowledge we have today on how children and adults, learn and remember. You may reference this article without any changes for legal purpose. Mr. Ridenour and the web address (www.multiplicationeducation) must be sited.

Introduction: This is part 1 of 3

A camera saves a picture of the world as it is. We begin with the record the camera sees and we add to this our hopes and thoughts for the future. These become the wonderful daydreams we have for ourselves and our children. The results of these dreams are the goals we design, the architecture, and the plans for our lives. Dreaming isn’t enough; we have the unique capacity to create our own environment. To change dreams into reality, requires an education that, at a minimum, is equal to the quality of the dreams. Don’t settle for today’s camera world as a goal for your children’s future; it’s not good enough. Inspire and motivate your children to have a passion for learning and their learning will never stop. The dreams you have for yourself and your children are the beginning of a new tomorrow, and today is the time to begin.

The Multiplication Education Book

You may remember from your own experiences as a child, that children will change games and do activities in an unexpected way. These changes were probably suggested by the leaders of the group to make these activities more compatible with their personalities. Psychologists have established two dominate groups and, allowing for some overlapping between the groups, children can be places in one of these. Identifying a child as either “left-brain” or “right-brain” does not establish a forever category. They may bounce, like a rubber ball, from one to the other several times.

To begin learning a new subject, the left-brain child is usually helped with a very brief description of the subject and why, in a sentence or two, knowledge of this type will be useful. Then they want to begin, “Just show me where to start”. They like workbooks with a text that describes what is being learned. They will usually adapt to interacting with a computer based learning program and they often enjoy taking the pop-quizzes to check their progress. They may prefer to work alone or with one or two others with similar interests and abilities.

The right brain child is not always an opposite in every respect, but they may need to be introduced to learning something using worlds like; “interesting”, “helpful”, or “you’ll be glad that you learned this”, without giving any reasons as to why this should be. Rather then a brief description of the subject, the attitude is, “Surprise me, when do we start?” As their learning progresses they may want to talk about what they have learned. They may do best working with a small group of up to about six children, with a lot of back and forth talking, talking that is often unrelated to what is being learned. They may want to show what they have learned by making a banner, a poster or some other project as proof of their new knowledge. Learning by interacting with a computer? A computer is a machine, are you crazy, forget it!

A teacher or a parent trying to get a right-brained child to learn the way a left-brain child learns has a nearly hopeless task. It can be done by modifying the procedures and then getting the child emotionally involved in this “new” learning process. A normal classroom will have students of both learning types and probably students with mental and physical dysfunctional problems, the combination of which makes teaching and learning difficult for all concerned. As a result, because the left brain child can usually accept and learn if taught using right brain teaching methods, and because the problems students will almost always learn best using the right brain procedures, classroom teaching up to the 4th or 5th grades is usually planned for the right brain child. As the more logical sciences are introduced and as many of the subjects become more difficult, the curriculum is changed to favor the left-brain students while keeping as many of the right brain procedures as possible.

In these early years the achievement grades are probably about the same for teaching all using the right brain methods as opposed to separating the left and right learners and teaching them accordingly. The left-brain learners will welcome and easily adapt the changes in teaching methods at about the 6th grade. Care must be taken by the teachers and parents to make this transition as “comfortable” as possible for the right brain learner. Unless the student has, or can develop a strong interest in the subject, they may never make the transition. We are confident in believing that there are many right brain learners who are doing brilliant work in traditional left-brain occupations. Therefore, we encourage parents and teachers, as much as is possible, to teach in a way that is naturally rewarding to the student.

It is amazing that even after numerous recent research studies on how the brain works, the human brain is still one of the most mysterious parts of our bodies. Someday the elusive goal of taking a “smart pill” in the morning will make everyone a genius for the day. I’m not holding my breath. But, with the knowledge we have today, it should be possible for every student who has a normal brain, to achieve a minimum A average using today’s grading system, in all subjects starting at about the 6th grade through high school.

Six years of straight A or A+ grades. To achieve this goal would require that the subjects taught in these grades would be presented in such a way that all the left and right brain children could understand, accept and learn. Unfortunately the lesson plans and teaching methods are very different. Ideally the school system should provide parallel classes for the same subject but the cost of doing this would be enormous. The result is a compromise, which, we believe, should favor the left-brain methods.

I can not image the difficulties of taking a right brain learners, an “A” student in high school, who has never been exposed to left brain teaching, put them into an organic chemistry class at a college or university and then expect them to get a passing grade of C or higher. It is probably not an impossible task but it has to be close to impossible. It is never too late, but it takes time and effort to change from the social and group learning of a leisurely paced and emotionally guided right brain curriculum, to one that is relatively fast paced and is based on concepts that are presented in text and reinforced verbally by the instructor. Some of these classroom sessions are intense and the bell rings for the end of the class just as the last word is spoken. A successful left-brain learner would leave this class thinking, “Wow, that was great!”

Unless you are interested in continuing your own education, you may not be able, or have been able, to make the choice for yourself, right or left, but you have the opportunity to do this for your children, especially if you’re planning on home schooling. Now, some children are never going to be left brain learners just like some are never going to be right brain learners. That’s OK. We need right brain people just as we need left-brain people in our society, we just don’t want everybody to be a right or left-brain person.

These concepts are not fixed they are flexible. Generally speaking, who do you think the people who invent things are? What about the CEO of a large company? If you have a small business that’s growing and you want to add someone to help, would you go for the right or left? If you need more sales you might go right, but if the need were in accounting and finance, maybe left would be best. What about a surgeon to repair a broken arm or a nurse for an elderly parent?

Regardless of you initial response, all of the above, could be designated as either right or left brained and all of them can be a success and pleased with their work. The key to a rewarding career is not fixed by the configuration of their brain today, but the key may be found in the early years or their education. That is, they were taught in a way that was in agreement with their personalities, they enjoyed learning and they were happy in the school environment.

If you want to do it, you know the personality of your child; you can help to create a learning process that your child will enjoy. Also remember that children often move back and forth on their own, sometimes depending on their friends or the changing goals they have. As a parent you need to be aware of and accept these changes in your child. There isn’t a best choice here and if you are home schooling, try both. If the child begins to show problems in learning, talk to them, you may be expecting too much or you may need to try a different teaching method.

If you are teaching of class of 20 or more children, you are probably using instructional materials that encourage learning using both sides of the brain. This “middle of the road” approach is used in most schools, especially in the lower grades, because it works. Unfortunately, the student with an above average intelligence, with either left or right brain learning abilities, may feel ignored, and their natural passion for learning may be compromised.

The Multiplication Education book can be used by all of these students. The book was written so that learning the multiplication facts could be self taught or used as a home school text. Left brain, right brain and intellectually gifted students can learn at a rate that pleases them. All students can review and reinforce their learning as often as needed. If they get some of the answers interchanged, saying the rhymes and looking at or visualizing the pictures will correct the mistakes. The most common mistakes are interchanging the answers to 7 x 8 and 6 x 9. The location of the numbers, the colors, rhymes and pictures will quickly correct this. In this example everything is different and once learned, easily remembered.

Right and left-brain students will appreciate the stories and how the stories, rhymes and pictures come together. Learning doesn’t become any easier than this. Each number has a logical place on the grid. Each number has its’ own color. Each fact has its’ own story and each story has a rhyme. Every child will discover the combinations that they will easily remember. When they forget or get the numbers turned around, they will think of the combinations that worked. This will lead them to the answer and they will know the answer is correct.

Why Can’t My Child Remember? This is part 2 of 3

“I bought the book and my son self-taught himself. I tested him when he finished and I’d give him an A for his answers. That was only a couple months ago and today he doesn’t get half of them right. What happened? You wrote earlier that from the 6th grade through high school a child could get A’s in every subject. You are wrong. He’s in the 3rd grade now and if all he remembers is half of what he’s taught he won’t get through the 6th grade to get into high school.” I haven’t received the letter quoted above, but if this article were closed here, I could. The Multiplication Education book is the first step but there are two more steps that most children need to take.

“Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.”

You know that rhyme. Everyone knows that rhyme. When I think of that rhyme I imagine a girl in black shoes walking in a meadow with green grass and a flower or two, the sky is blue with a single small white cloud and the lamb’s feet and nose match the color of her shoes.

If your child knew this rhyme at the age of 2 or 3 and they aren’t remembering what they are taught in school, give them the first five words and ask them to finish the rhyme. If they can and they can describe from their imagination Mary and her lamb, their inability to remember is easy to correct. If they don’t remember the rhyme, they may need help and I’d begin with the school counselor or the family doctor.

Brain research on how we remember changes with a frequency that matches the speed of developing equipment to measure different types and locations of brain activity Therefore, what I present here today may change, but it should be close, and close enough to be of help. I have read books written by Howard Gardner, Gerald Edelman and Norman Doidge. All of them agree on at least two issues. Learning is not complete until the subject studied has moved from a temporary location into a permanent file in the brain, and the neurons that move information from locations where the information is received into temporary and ultimately into permanent storage are strengthened by repetitive use. The common phrase is, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”.

From all of this, it seems that the best way to have a good memory is to get the neurons that are transmitting the data, to be strengthened by wiring together. The analogy is that to go from here to a place some distance away there are two choices: take the back road and enjoy the scenery or take the freeway and get there now. To move data in the brain we want to get there now, we want to wire those neurons together. We want the information we are putting into the brain to be moved as quickly and efficiently as possible. If there is a problem with a neuron we don’t want to take a detour, we want another neuron that will do the job; we want those neurons wired together.

This is why golfers spend hours on the practice tee, it’s why tennis and baseball players hit balls thrown toward them by a machine for hours, the same for musicians, practicing their parts for hours, they all practice until their performance is A or A+ and unless your child has the natural ability approaching that of an intellectual genius, it may take hours and hours of practice to get those neurons wired together, but it works. Repeating an activity, learning how to do it correctly and then repeating the same thing over and over wires those neurons together.

There’s a difference between athletic ability and intellectual ability because if a golfer wants to become a tennis player they have to start over to train a new set of muscles and to get them coordinated to perform correctly. But if a student, in the process of learning basic arithmetic, gets those neurons wired together, they can be used to learn and remember anything. It’s the gift of the smart pill except you don’t have to take it every morning, just use it often enough so that the highway doesn’t turn to dust and fall apart.

How do these neurons get wired together? We don’t have any proof to back up anything that follows, and I’ll admit that some parts of the preceding two or three paragraphs could be questioned, but the circumstantial evidence is there. We believe that solving simple one and two-digit addition problems is a good place to start. This is not a test and the problems should not be difficult because the answers have to be the same each time the problem is repeated. The only goal is to have the child see and/or hear the numbers and orally solve the problem. The same process with different numbers, repeated over and over and over. The numbers on the page need to be random and drawing them from a paper sack can do this. The same pages can be used for subtraction. The next step is multiplication and division. For grade school students in the higher grades, multiplying a two-digit number by a single digit, 80 problems answered orally in about 2 minutes and getting them all correct, is only a slight challenge, and it can be done.

Start with randomly designed pages of the one-digit addition problems doing a different page, several times a day. The use of classical music, almost any of the Mozart symphonies or piano concertos as quiet background music may help to wire the neurons together.

We have a separate article on preparing a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to select random numbers. We give you all the formulas for the numbers and the cells where they are placed. A hundred pages could be printed and each page will be different. These spreadsheets are for learning addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This article also has suggestions on foods to eat, or not to eat for mental alertness (absolutely no caffeine and no sugar or sugar substitutes), and activities that will help to keep the child alert and interested in learning.

All arithmetic problems are randomly selected and printed from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (currently available for PC only). We provide all the information to enter the necessary formulas so that even if you are not familiar with Excel spreadsheet programming, you can do this. Item #1 on the check out page is the Multiplication Education book and Item #2 is the Arithmetic Excel spreadsheet.

Essential for Learning and Remembering: This is part 3 of 3

The first step in this presentation was the book, Multiplication Education, the second was the repetition to bind the neurons together, and this section on Activities is the last. Usually the last sections are the conclusions because they summarize everything, they are important. Activities, especially at the grade school level and even through high school are essential for learning and remembering and in a sense; this is the most important part of this article.

Have you watched a motivational speaker on TV? A program to lose weight, to buy into an investment plan, a church evangelist… what are all of them doing? If they have to stand still for 30 seconds, they are gripping the sides of the rostrum and their knuckles are turning white. They have to move! If you put a seat belt on any one of them and forced them to sit in a chair for an interview you would be the only one talking. Take off that seat belt and give them their freedom, they will walk and they’ll talk, non-stop, for hours.

These speakers are not children and they are not teachers, these are professional speakers who have tuned their skills to that of an extra sharp razor blade. They know their jobs, they know how to get an audience wound up, they know how to create excitement, they know how to build enthusiasm, and they know how to get to that important “Yes” response. Watch them, they’ll begin with a smile on their face, they are happy to see the audience, they start talking and the smile goes away, this is serious stuff now, everything is important. A little bit later the smile comes back, why, because the speaker knows some are hooked, the audience and the speaker’s emotions are rising, there is total involvement and at the end the speaker and the audience are as one. That’s not a grin on the speaker’s face, no that’s an ear to ear smile, “Hey, I’m good, I’m the best, I love this job!”

This is important. There are several lessons here.

First: The obvious, motion by a teacher and the parent is absolutely essential. It doesn’t have to be walking, but walking is usually the least distractive and it can be an aid to the speaker to remember where they are in their presentation. Don’t sit at a table or desk, move. If you are teaching at home create movement by placing the easel with the pad of pages on it someplace where you have to walk to it. Learn from the professionals on the TV. Anytime they sense even one in the audience isn’t with them, they move, they may stop talking, but they get that person’s attention back by moving.

Second: The obvious, unlike you sitting in front of the TV, your audience is a child whose days before the school year started were filled with action between getting up out of bed in the morning to going to bed at night. I think 10 minutes of talking is about the maximum attention you can expect from a child and maybe less at the start of the school year. Then you have to get them involved in something. The teacher has to move and their students have to move. Sometimes the student has to move to get the information in their brain to unlock so that they can present it. Another way of saying this is, “Movement is required to talk, movement is required to learn and movement is required to remember”, and this is true for the teacher and the student.

Third: Another obvious, if you’re a teacher you know this. The TV professionals have their presentation timed to the second. Your presentation probably can’t be timed this close but you do need a mix of activities and teaching that will fit the time for the class period. For the home schoolers, you are expecting the best from your child and your child is expecting the best from you. Be prepared for the occasion when the lesson is finished early; always have something for back up,

Following is one of the ways the Multiplication Education book can be used to have activities and teaching at the same time. There are many examples in the book and you can be creative as well.

Fourth: The less obvious: The Multiplication Education book uses a tic-tac-toe grid to locate the numbers. I would have a compass that I would show them and I would explain and show them how the needle of the compass always stayed in one place and points north. Then on a piece of paper I’d draw the grid and above where the number 2 would be I’d print a large N with an arrow pointing up. It will take some time to do it but it’s worth it. I’d have a yardstick and some masking tape and I’d keep talking until someone says, “Lets do it.” (This is a probable leader and probable left side learner.)

You may know where I am going with this. I’d show them a map, North is at the top and North on our grid is at the top and the other letters, E, W and S match those on the map. We haven’t done any multiplication, but now they know what a compass is and how it can be used. They know which way is North in the classroom and the other directions. They learned a little about maps and that North is always at the top.

Next they’ll use some crayons to color some paper to match the colors of the numbers in the Multiplication Education book. The plan will be to do a couple facts a day and to repeat these two facts several times each day. In the morning the first child, without looking into a sack of numbers, takes a number from it, takes the paper with the right color and stands in the grid on the correct square. This is repeated with a second child. With the two children standing in the grid in the correct places I would tell the story for these numbers, the rhyme and answer. Then we all say the rhyme and answer together a couple of times. We talk about the story and a few minutes later the children tell me the rhyme and answer. Then we do another fact.

These facts are reviewed every day and others are added until they are learned. Over and over, don’t give up, show enthusiasm and smile. Children don’t learn anything by participating in a spelling bee type of contest, the less intelligent sit down first and the smart one always win, nothing was gained.

Design the activities so that the ones that need help the most are still participating at the end of the game. Encourage your students not to guess, if they don’t know the answer have them raise their hand and go to the next child, and keep doing this until someone knows and gives the correct answer. Then go back to all those who didn’t know and have them give the correct answer. Finally it’s reward time and everybody applauds!

Once they know the facts, review them over and over, using the random problem pages to maintain interest. This is how the single neuron becomes as a rope to move information eventually into a permanent file where it is always accessible. You don’t want to get your children wound up the way those TV professionals do, but your “Yes” response is the improvements in grade and attitudes. Children will know they are improving, school work isn’t the work it used to be, they will discover that learning is rewarding, they will feel better, they will be better. They will want to be in the school environment because this is where they are learning and you can end the day with one of those ear-to-ear smiles thinking, “Yes, yes, I love this job!”